Thursday, November 15, 2007

US Dollars or Bernies?

As you know I'm a bit of a Formula One buff. This year has been rather interesting for reasons you'd have to be somebody named Gilligan or The Professor to have missed.

Basically, the sport's governing body's head honcho revealed he's actually Joseph Stalin reincarnated, as well as a huge Ferrari fan. Meanwhile the sport's largest shareholder, who is also the world's smallest person, Bernie Ecclestone, managed to oversell Grands Prix to more countries than there are places on the calendar- in much the same way airlines oversell seats then hope that someone turns up late and forfeits their ticket.

Bernie is so rich that the UK will soon re-name their currency after him. The longevity of his control over F1 has been of Castro-like proportions. In fact, there are rumours that when Bernie dies, he has ordered that his corpse be ferried around to F1 venues so that his management company continues to rake the revenue. Although, this will probably be ineffective since a rotting, dead Bernie would not be as scary as the live one. Anyhow, it was this order which inspired the Hollywood film Weekend at Bernie's.

You can prise F1 from my cold, dead fingers...

Ever since Victoria poached the Oz Grand Prix from Adelaide by offering Bernie more than the Gross Domestic Product of South Australia, Bernie's wallet has never quite recovered from the strain. Now he signs up long term contracts everywhere and then finds ways of making them short term.

Before I go on any more, for the uninitiated, here is an excerpt from my new book Running a Grand Prix for Dummies, from the chapter on "How to get a Grand Prix".

Hopeful Nation
: Hi Bernie, we'd like a Grand Prix. We have very little industry, massive unemployment, social problems and crime, terrible lack of infrastructure, but the Government's prepared to pay...
Bernie: Sounds fine. That'll be 50 million...
HN: ...and we've got oil
Bernie: I mean...that'll be FIVE HUNDRED million Bernies.
HN: Great. Here's the cheque. So when will the track be ready?

Bernie: OH, you wanted a TRACK with that?? Goodness me no, it doesn't work that way. Track's not included. Here's the card of someone who can help. He'll build one for you.
HN: (reads card) "Herman the German". Uh-huh. How much?
Bernie. Dunno. Nothing to do with me. Probably another 500 million.
HN: Do we HAVE to use this guy??
Bern: Good Lord no, it's a free country (Well, mine is. Can't speak for yours) You can use whoever you like.
HN: Right then. Who else is there?
Bern: Nobody. You have to use Herman.
HN: How many races do we have?

Bernie: The standard contract is 6 races. But in reality it's one, maybe two, until I get bored with you and come up with an excuse to void the contract or make unreasonable demands on you such as you must stage the race at night or upside down.
HN: What if we can't meet those demands?
Bernie: Well, you'll lose the race and have nobody to blame but yourselves.
HN: If so, will we receive a partial refund of our 500 million Bernies?
Bernie: (loses control in fits of annoying laughter) Excuse me, I have to sit down...(loses it again)
(HN goes back to it's Parliament/Senate Committee/ Caucus/ Tribal Council to pitch the idea)
Tribal Council: It will cost HOW much?

HN: 500 Million. But it will bring IMMEASURABLE benefit to the local economy!
TC: So what you're saying is, you have absolutely no idea whether we'll make any money out of it, but the local corner store will sell more of those cheap little Kodak snappy cameras and toilet paper, and there'll be lots of spoilt, pompous journalists moaning about how bad our taxi drivers are?
HN: Well yes. But, by gosh, we'll get on the Telly! And no-one will think we're a backwards, mountain goat-infested dump anymore!

...and so on. Anyhoo, it turns out even Melbourne is eligible to cop a legendary Bernie change-of-heart. You see, this year Bernie mentioned that he had, after ten years, only just realised the shocking truth- that the Oz GP is on just a little too early for Poms and Europeans to watch it on their tellies, i.e. several hours before they all get up and go to church. So, says Bern, why don't you chaps hire some of those floodlights from Coates Hire and stage a race at night to boost my Telly ratings! Oh, and while they're at it, Coates Hire might also like to build a nuclear reactor in Albert Park to power it.

Count To Zero wins, only to be excluded and fined 100million bernies for receiving a 780 page technical dossier from Efficient and copying their horseshoes

How Melbourne managed to ride that one out I don't know but no sooner had that blown over that the Vic Socialists looked at their invoices and discovered that the GP had lost them $34 million. That's a lot of speeding fines. So, all sorts of novel ideas were floated to make the GP a little cheaper. None of them were really impressive since the Vic Socialists aren't that crash at fixing problems in any way other than throwing more money at them.

One suggestion, earlier in the year, was that a consortium of Geelong people would build a massive racetrack on the western plains near where I live, which would be nice. The problem with this idea was that the consortium consisted of Drag Racing legend and very large man Victor Bray, and there were concerns he would build a track without any corners.

Another suggestion was to stage it at Sandown, a horse race track which has a motor race track running around it. But they already spent gazillions on the very same idea in the early 1980's, only to be gazzumped by Adelaide (huzzah!!). So they're still sulking.

Another more recent suggestion was to stage it at Phlegmington, a horse racetrack which has no motor race track running around it, at present. However, this idea was dismissed as too problematic because Melbournians might confuse the GP with the Melbourne Cup, as well as confuse Bernie Ecclestone with a (very, very old) jockey.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Country and Western Ring Road

Normally I wouldn't post something quite so brief and pointless. I'd rather my posts are long and pointless (with photos).

I've never really understood music. For example, a singing idol, I would have thought, would be someone who is unique in some way.

So why do we keep manufacturing more, every year? Does the main market for this product constantly get bored? Well, the main market for new album buyers consists of young girls aged 11-15. Okay, that explains a bit.

Dont get me wrong, I love the sound of a nice voice, and yes I'm talking to you Alicia Jane Hawkes, Pippa, Katie, and to a much lesser extent, Delta Goodrem and, um, whoever the last Australian Idol was.

But producing more idol singers is like producing more ambulance chasing lawyers- we love them, we really do, but the world doesn't exactly need any more of them. Or, it's like taking all the office stationary pens and claiming them all by labelling them with your name. Eventually nobody will care and take them anyway.

It's not like I don't try to keep up with the hip young with-it trendy underground indy stand-up-to-the-man viva-la-revolucion mu-zak. Why, recently I purchased an album by one of Australia's finest Eskimo Joe; Black Fingernails Red Wine. Firstly, I was very impressed that lead singer Kav Temperly is about the most poshly pronunciated indie-pop-rock singer out there. No-one else can sing "I should hah'v stayed in buh'd" like he. The album also has a song with the curious lyrics of

Won't you tell me your name

Well, I can help you there Kav. It's...."SARAH".

Anyhoo, speaking of music, the roads here in Melbourne are more musical than me. I drive on the Western Ring Road every day. This engineering masterpiece is unique in that, in the areas where there are lots of exits and entrances all within a short distance, and therefore more lanes are required to accommodate the merging congestion, there are actually less lanes. It was apparently constructed some time in the late 70's, a the height of the hemp usage boom, which could explain a lot.

The other beauty of this road is that peak is not confined to any particular direction. In theory this means the traffic volume is evenly distributed. This is certainly true. In peak hour, both sides are a car park.

But that's not what I'm writing about. Recently they've scraped the surface of the bitumen for several kilometres, in preparation to resurface. Perhaps they plan to add some of those lanes which went missing in the 70's, along with the engineers' brain cells.

The scraping has produced fine corrugations in the direction of the road. As you drive, it makes a humming noise. It took me a while to realise what it was, and that I wasn't going even more insane than usual. It's actually quite tuneful. Between Sunshine and Keilor, I'm sure it's making a rendition of "What a wonderful world" by Louis Armstrong. Apparently if you drive on Bridgestone radials it goes up an octave.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bird takes up race driving

So, what's been happening lately?

After a brief Viktorian spring, we got an entire winter's worth of rainfall in one weekend. Lara was looking a bit soggy for a while, but not quite as soggy as the Gippsland region, which I seem to recall flooded back in July no doubt due to Global Warming. Damming the Mitchell River would apparently increase our water supplies by 4%, which is a big deal. But of course damming also affects the local ecology and frogs, and contributes to Global Warming. So, the good residents of the Gippsland region are contributing to the Greater Good by occasionally putting up with this:

At least we're thinking of the children..

To do my bit for the environment I threw the kart in a diesel powered van, drove to Adelaide, left it there, jumped on a big plane, flew to Sydney, attended a trade show, flew back to Adelaide, raced in the Superkart Nationals then drove home. Then I took a breath.

The trade show is a great event. I've blogged on about it previously but it basically is a chance to stand up all day and talk to people about floor sanding machines. Whether this actually does any good for business or not is still undecided but the relevance of the social events is unanimously agreed upon.
Where I spent two whole days talking about drum pressure and swirl marks

So much so, that boss Cam flew Sharon and Louise (his wife) over to join in and provide some female company and conversation pertaining to something other than Floor Sanding. Wednesday night, cocktail party. Thursday night, dinner with guests from Singapore. Friday night, big awards dinner with celebrity speaker to which I didn't go, but more on that later.

Before it all began, Tuesday night, I managed to steal away from our lush hotel at Coogee Beach, battling two hours of Sydney peak to visit the esteemed Godfather at the famous Kings' School Paramatta. It's always a treat to be "given an audience" with Dr. Timothy Hawkes, i.e. get hugged sensless, drip fed beer and red wine, and dined in a massive dining room with furniture dating back to the first settlers.

Archive footage of big blokey manly men

The Hawkeses are, without overselling them, a wonderful, wonderful family with infectious cheer. Absent was Pippa, up at their Pretty Beach house, um, "studying" and of course Peter and Amber are still in India rescuing slaves. Jane's nephew Chris, from the UK, was still down and working in Sydney with the occasional commute to NZ, and the lovely Alicia Jane was there after another day showing injured and sick people how to rehabilitate.
Quite frankly I think they all lead such boring lives.

So it was back to the relative drudgery of the timber flooring show, made interesting by my inclusion of the race car simulator. It was intended to draw a crowd, although day one it looked more like it would simply serve as a creche, since the visiting tradespeople's kids flocked to it. I was outraged. It's a race car simulator, not a bluddy video game, you little cretins. It's for grown men to run motorsport simulations, although it is kind of like, well...a.... Anyway, it ended up being quite successful. Friday night I missed the you-beaut gala dinner evening with guest speaker Mike Whitney (you know, the guy who once played cricket and was in a couple of reality TV shows. Woo-bluddy-hoo). Instead I was on a plane back to Adelaide. I would rather have been at the dinner but I chose this sport and the Superkart Nationals just happen to be scheduled right on top of our trade show. I think 2007 will be known as the Year of The Date Clash. Sharon went to the Awards dinner, presumably masquerading as one of Cam's two wives.

The Superkart Nationals were at Mallala, my favourite old place. I did okay, finishing fourth out of the Victorians but the South Aussies were too strong. I was buried mid-pack most of the weekend so in order to draw attention to myself I wore a silly hat.

Fourth seems to be my groundhog-day result. A week after all this date-clashing I had the final round of the Viktorian Club series at Phillip Island. I came fourth. Fourth is good.

Then after all that beingbusyness things got mostly almost back to some kind of normal-ishness. For Omi's birthday we drove across the other side of Melbourne (a distance equal to crossing several European countries) to visit the famous Healesville Sanctuary. It was about as touristy as you can get and personally, give me Cudlee Creek in the beautiful Adelaide Hills any day. Mind you, the birds of prey show was worth the drive. The park ranger would ask the large audience questions like "Do you know what the largest bid of prey in Australia is...?" in patronising, Wiggles-style tones. Omi would reply "Wedgetail Eagle" in who doesn't know that?? tones. And yes, it was one huge Wedgie.

To keep the tone of the show going, after having birds of prey swooping low over our heads (apparently the lower you duck, the lower they fly), a person claiming to be an aboriginal came out and started throwing boomerangs over our heads. We then went to their lavish new animal hospital, but I didn't see any muppets. There they taught you that if you find an injured native animal, you must not try and look after it, you must hand it over to the local wildlife concern.

After that day, by a strange quirk of fate, Naomi found an orphaned wattle bird, know as Winnie, who has now decided that a big gangly human kid is really her mother.

Race driving is a complex art. First, you must be facing the front of the vehicle when sitting in it. Well, actually, this creature isn't neccessarily less smart than most race drivers

So in our suburban dogbox block of land we now have a menagerie of squeaking piggies and chirping birdies and Lord knows what other critters Omi will adopt. Still, I have to admit that it's kinda cool having this little native bird come and land on your shoulder. From our Healesville training we did the right thing and asked the local wildlife concern to take on little Winnie, but they suggested "ah, just feed it and let it go, it should be okay."

So we did. And it keeps flying back to us. Of course, Omi isn't exactly heartbroken about this. More later. BYE.